I’m not very sure why I thought it was a good idea to spend Christmas in Ibiza town. I had the opportunity to leave the donkeys in the good hands of my friend Carl for a few days, so I came here just to see what Ibiza is like in winter time. It is Christmas Eve and I arrived two days ago, but this morning’s Diario de Ibiza ominously carries the story of the “Great Exodus” from Ibiza for Christmas, as the ferries to the mainland are filled with local people scrambling to get away from the island. (This doesn’t look very promising: will there be anyone left to cook my Christmas dinner?)
I am not surprised by the urgency to get away. In fact, at the beginning of my second day here, I went to the port and paid twenty Euros to get my return boat ticket brought forward to leave Ibiza as soon as the boats are running again on Boxing Day. So, what do I find unappealing about the place? No better place to start than the hotel. I booked five nights at the Hotel Montesol in the centre of the town because it was the first hotel built in Ibiza town in the 1930s. I remembered it very well from living in Ibiza in the 1960s: it is the smart looking yellow building on the Vara de Rey, with the pavement café outside, where the smart set always used to take their morning coffee.
Outside, it is visibly the same rather grand 1930s building; but inside, the faded blue carpet leads to shabby little rooms that were halved in size with plasterboard walls – doubling the rooming capacity – in some botched interior re-fit during the boom years of the 1970s.
The lift is still the same old rickety vintage contraption that takes two passengers and a small holdall. The second floor corridor leading to room 215 reeks of stale tobacco and there is a faded blue armchair part covering a puddle sized stain on the threadbare carpet. Luckily there are only three other guests. Unluckily, two of them are in the next door room with the television blaring through the thin wall. The window opens onto a building well filled with rubbish and the constant turbine-like hum of twenty air conditioning units running day and night.
The Hotel Montesol is a microcosm of the rest of Ibiza town these days. The old houses with their gleaming white walls in this capital of the Isla Blanca are still as I remember them from the 1960s, but here also there have been great changes within. The entire town has undergone a complete demographic change and there are very few local people occupying the place. Occasionally some inhabitant of the little flats and bedsits emerges into the mostly empty streets. It may be a new age traveller type bringing out his skinny little dog to foul the pavement; or a darkly hooded beardy addict, hurrying to the farmacia to get his methodone prescription; and everywhere the beggars pounce upon the only visitor who has been foolish enough to venture out for a winter holiday in this once-charming town.
Ibiza is perhaps the best example I have seen of Stage 6 of the Butler’s Tourism Life Cycle Model: “Decline”. When all the expensive fashion shops are open for business in the summer, and the harbour is choked with luxury yachts registered in Dubai, and the discos are throbbing till five in the morning, it is easy to miss the simple fact that there is no community left in the old town. In winter, that fact is glaringly obvious. Nowhere is this clearer than the market place in the centre of the town on Christmas Eve. I remember coming here on Christmas Eve fifty-one years ago, stocking up with oranges and tangerines for Christmas, and it was packed with local people. Today, deserted. A vacant echoing space with two fruit stalls, surrounded by streets of empty houses.
In 1963 when I first went there the market was filled with local shoppers, many in traditional Ibicenco dress. The only place to see such costume in the streets of Ibiza now is in the window of a shop selling rather over-priced ceramics.
In case these impressions of Ibiza in winter should seem too negative, I hasten to add that there is another side to the place which no visitor should miss, but it has only marginally more life in it. The six staff who were manning the museum of the Punic-Phoenician necropolis could not have been more welcoming. I don’t know if I was the only visitor they had that day, but they leapt into action to interpret the place for me and were very helpful. The necropolis is situated just outside the town centre on the Puig des Molins. I spent a very worthwhile couple of hours in the place and learnt about Punic, Phoenician, and Roman burial customs. Sadly, there was no clue to help me organise my thoughts on appropriate funerary rites for a dead tourist town.